What is Massage Therapy?
When envisioning muscles, bones and joints of the body (musculoskeletal system), one might compare them to an intricate pulley system. The muscles are acting as the cables and the joints as the pulleys. Keeping this in mind, when dysfunction jeopardizes the muscles, bones or the joints, imbalances will occur and alter everything including a person’s posture, a joint’s smoothness and overall ability to move in day-to-day functions, disrupting a person’s lifestyle.
By desensitizing or stimulating the nervous system in a controlled manner, massage can decrease or temporarily increase muscular tone depending on the therapeutic goal. Massage also increases blood flow and metabolic activity to aid in tissue damage repair. When massaging, a small, controlled amount of damage is inflicted onto the body’s tissues in order to trigger homeostasis. (The body’s way of maintaining optimal function internally and externally. This is where the increased metabolism comes into play.) The breaking down and realignment of misaligned soft tissue fibers (collagen, muscle and fascia) also takes place during this trauma to the body. However, applying pressure and breaking down soft tissue and muscles is not the only focus in a treatment.
Muscle weakness can also lead to dysfunction. Going back to the pulley system analogy, if one side of the pulley is unable to withstand the tension of the opposing side, the weak muscle will become tight and stretched making it more susceptible to tearing. This tearing could jeopardize other surrounding structures through inflammation and muscle guarding leading to impingement or entrapment of neurovascular structures. (Nerves, veins and arteries) Muscle weakness can also cause joint instability, which can also lead to tendonitis, joint subluxations (joint separation) and also damage to neurovascular structures. When a muscle is weak, there are strengthening techniques that are applied in order to bring back equilibrium to the dysfunctional joints and muscles. The effects of these techniques are only temporary so it is up to the therapist to give you advice on how to approach proper rehabilitation to restore functional performance.
Ultimately, everything within the body is about balance. Balance in motion, balance in strength, and balance in lifestyle. Optimal balance leads to an optimal way of living. It is up to the patient as to how much they can get from a massage treatment. 1% of rehabilitation is the treatment, 99% is what the patient does with their body when they go home. A massage will never permanently “cure” anything, so it is important to live a healthy life. Although it can be intimidating and feel daunting sometimes to a patient when they take a look at the severity of their condition, it is always best to just start somewhere. So why not come for a massage and see what it is all about?
Benefits of Massage Therapy
- Aids in the restoration of functional performance in body movement
- Increases circulation and metabolism
- Breaks down adhesions and contractures (knots)
- Realigns collagen fibers (scar tissue)
- Can decrease: headaches, low back pain, body pain in general, scar tissue adhesions, muscle tone to relieve stress in joints
- Temporarily enhance muscular performance
- Relieve pain from TMD (temporalmandibular disorder, otherwise known as TMJ)
- Decrease stress on herniated discs
- Aid in respiratory function
And so on…
Pain is Subjective! What to Expect from a Massage
Many people are convinced that the site of their pain is the main source of its cause. This is not always true. The pain they may be experiencing may just be a symptom caused by the “true” site of injury. It might be due to a long-passed injury that they may have had no pain from for years and years. Due to the body’s way of adapting with scar tissue and compensation, it has created a new dysfunction causing them this new pain. Do not be surprised when a therapist focuses more on an area away from the site of tenderness as opposed to the tenderness itself. Not to say that the painful area should be undermined. It is still a part of the puzzle and should be thoroughly examined and treated.
Pressure is to be expected in a deep tissue massage treatment. In order to achieve a certain amount of depth into the tissue there needs to be a sufficient amount of pressure. However, it is up to the therapist to monitor how vigorous the massage is for the client. Too much pressure can further injure a patient, so close communication with the therapist is a must. More pain does NOT mean that the treatment is “working”. A strong background in anatomy, physiology and great focus on technique is what makes a treatment “work”. There is a fine line between proper pain and improper pain. If the pressure feels unbearable, it is most likely too much. Different areas of the body are more sensitive than others. Some therapists go deeper than others. The pressure can vary upon the patient’s dysfunction or pathology. For example, someone with severe Fibromyalgia will most likely be treated with a softer touch. Relaxation massage uses a soft touch and focuses more on increasing circulation and stress relief as opposed to a deep tissue massage which has a more focal and clinical approach to therapy. There is no hierarchy in out of all the massage modalities. Everything serves its purpose.
It is up to the patient to have an idea of what kind of therapy they are receiving prior to the actual treatment. It would be very unfortunate for a client if they came in to see a deep tissue massage therapist with low back pain complaints but only wanted a relaxation massage and ended up with a hip flexor treatment through their abdomen!
What is Fascia?
Fascia is a type of connective tissue that surrounds muscles, various groups of muscles, blood vessels and nerves. It binds some structures together while allowing some to smoothly glide over one another. It is essentially the infrastructure for your entire body. It is what gives you your overall shape. Envision a woven sweater that engulfs your whole body. It is a sweater in which each interlacing yarn surrounds every bone, ligament, and organ in an endless ocean of soft tissue latticework. There is no beginning or end to it due to its seamlessness in structure. Without it, muscles of the body would lose a significant amount of tensile strength. The muscles encased within it should function similarly to how a piston would within a cylinder in a car engine. If you fail to put oil in an engine, it seizes. If you have a poor diet, or fail to drink water on a daily basis, the fascia can become “sticky” and adhere to the structures lying within. This would lead to motion restriction in day-to-day functions, limiting muscle tissue their true range of motion causing asymmetry and dysfunction. Direct trauma to the body’s soft tissues can also cause adhesion due to the body’s way of repairing itself through inflammation and the development of collagen fibers to seal tissue tearing.
Because of the fascia’s ability to restrict motion, there are specific techniques applied to stretch and re-align the tissue itself in order to gain balance in the body. These techniques are called Myofascial Release.